What if all the actresses wore the same modest outfit to the Emmys? Glenn Close’s suggestion to thwart the fashion-obsessed media prompted unanimous mock agreement from our panel of Emmy-contending drama actresses, part of a spirited hourlong discussion. “Let’s do it!” agreed Sandra Oh. “Lets plan it!”
The Hollywood Reporter: What’s the hardest thing about your job that we might not expect?
Sandra Oh: Being on a network’s 24-episode schedule, managing time and managing exhaustion. And within that there’s a lot of stuff that has nothing to do with acting, which is mostly dynamics and politics, that I find equally exhausting. But just physically, the amount of hours that you work on a network schedule is so exceptionally difficult. At the height of “Grey’s,” I had this sense of, “I’ll give it all up! Really, I’ll give it up.” That passed. (Laughs.)
THR: Do you find your show is under a particular microscope?
Oh: That’s a totally different question. We’re going to talk about that? Okay. It’s a big network show, it’s under a tremendous microscope, and it changed the sense of what the show was and is. A lot times, fortunately or unfortunately, that’s what leads a lot of the show right now is how it’s under a microscope.
THR: Given the tight schedules of TV???production, what’s your secret for learning lines?
Kyra Sedgwick: My character is particularly verbose. Out of a 46-page script I think I have 30 pages of dialogue. Every sense has to be accommodated. I have to listen to it, I have to read it with somebody, I have to look at it every way. It’s all-consuming. I’m not one of those people who can look at a page and know it. Some people have that. J.K. Simmons on my show has that and it’s really irritating! (Laughs.)
Glenn Close: How long do you get scripts before you shoot?
Sedgwick: We usually get (scripts) about four or five days before we start shooting the first episode. But then, you’re still learning that episode when you get the next episode. I have a 15-, 16-hour day, then I go home and work on the lines. And when I wake up in the morning, and during lunch, and in the bathtub, and on the weekends, and going for a hike …
Chloe Sevigny: I try to do all my work at work, and study my lines in the trailer in the morning.
Claire Danes: The pace of television is extraordinary. I’ve never found the same kind of demands in film. I did “My So-Called Life” a long time ago and I definitely remember the strain of it. I lost my period, actually, at one point, because the stress was just so intense.
Close: The thing I find hard is, for the amount of time that we’re shooting, not being able to say to anyone, “Yes, I can show up Wednesday night for dinner.” My husband is not in the business, so that’s the biggest cost. To know that you can’t depend on being there because the schedule will change and it will go later than you think.
THR: Elisabeth, do you find the secrecy around your show and your character makes it tougher on you as an actress?
Elisabeth Moss: We don’t get our scripts until sometimes the day of the read-through, which is the day right before we start the episode. We hear things here and there, but I would love to know more. I would love to know the entire arc of my character. Obviously, that’s what’s really great about doing film or doing theater, but I’m kinda used to it now.
Close: I never know. We used to have read-throughs but we don’t. We get the script sometimes at 11 o’clock at night before we start shooting.
Sedgwick: Oh, forget it!
Close: I’ve gotten so used to learning my lines in the makeup chair. They are a very organic group of writers.
Moss: That’s such a nice word. (Laughs.)
Close: When I’m looking at the page, I score out all the stage directions, because my mind will register that there’s a line there but maybe not a spoken line. So if I just score out all the stage direction and keep the pure dialogue, I can learn it much faster and I don’t have little blips in my mind.
Sevigny: Sometimes it’s difficult when you make certain character decisions and then they throw something at you. “Really, I thought she was like this?”
Moss: “I’ve been playing the exact opposite thing for six episodes!” (Laughs.)
THR: What was the hardest thing in preparing for your roles?
Sedgwick: I have an accent, but I don’t feel like that was really hard to learn. In a lot of ways, it’s a really freeing thing as an actor. You’re like, “Oh well, I’m really not me. I can just fly and do crazy stuff.”
Close: The hardest thing was not knowing the beginning, middle and end. Because that’s how I’ve always constructed my characters. I still don’t know everything about Patty Hewes and I felt very insecure about it for a while. I went to our writers and said, “I’ll write my own back story,” and they said, “No, you can’t.” I went to this wonderful coach, Harold Guskin. Harold had worked with James Gandolfini and told me that he had the same problem. You have to fly, you really have to let it all go. And that comforted me. Then it became a lot of fun. I felt like I was living a novel week-to-week, like the 21st century version of Dickens. It’s a really good exercise for an actor.
Sedgwick: It’s a living organism. It’s a living, morphing, changing thing.
Oh: You have to constantly let go. Things sometimes don’t actually make sense. “I thought this,” or “Well, four episodes ago I was doing this.” You have to let that s*** go.
THR: When you watch your performances, what bothers you?
Sedgwick: I watch the first cut because I have to give notes.
Moss: That sounds really nice. (Laughs.)
Sedgwick: I go, “I know there’s a better take,” or “There’s a moment when I did that and you need to show that.” My biggest criticism is I sometimes go, “Can you make that a little smaller, Kyra?” (Laughs.) Sometimes you go, “God, I really wish I’d made another choice there.”
Danes: I often find that some of the best moments in my performances are the ones that I didn’t really fixate on — the inconsequential scene. It’s always the scene that I’m sure will be the defining one that I completely get wrong, because I overthink it, or I psych myself out. So I’m often surprised by the more transitional moments that aren’t supposed to count. I find that I do something most fresh there.
Moss: The ones where you’ve had four hours of sleep and you’re not even paying attention end up being important.
THR: Kyra, you produce your show. Do the rest of you grapple with issues of control?
Oh: Don’t we all? You sign on to do these series after only reading a pilot. You put so much trust in the creators and sometimes you aren’t excited about what they’re doing with your character or where the story’s going, or the tone of the show changes a little bit. And you just have to go with it.
Moss: A lot of trust is involved.
Close: We sign our lives away for a few years on the strength of one script. I did. It’s almost incredible.
THR: Glenn, you probably could have been a producer on “Damages.” Why not?
Close: I didn’t want to be. I’ve been a producer. I just wanted to not worry about all that other stuff. You do anyway, because you’re very much part of a team. And I’m always aware of every member of that team. But they’ve treated me like a producer and are highly collaborative.
Oh: I really hope to get there. Being on a show for six years now and not having the type of power you’re talking about, you have to learn how to let go of control all the time, whether it’s the schedule or the script or dynamics with other people. I don’t watch my show because when I’m like 60 and vacationing somewhere, I’m going to watch it all back-to-back and be like, “That’s good. Fun times.” One time a couple of seasons ago — it was a tremendous experience — I was invited into the writers’ room when they were breaking the next season and they were like, “What would you like to tell us? What would you like to see in the next season?”
Moss: (To Sevigny) We keep looking at each other: “Wow, this is awesome.” (Laughs.)
Oh: I really took that opportunity. One of the things that frustrates me is when (producers) make those internal cuts or they cut the s*** out of stuff, it drives me insane, because I’m mapping out A, B, C, D and if it goes from A to D, just tell me that! I’ll do something different.
Sevigny: Or when they do rewrites and they have to cut a scene and they just smoosh one scene to another scene, and it makes no sense. (Laughs.)
Oh: I don’t have the right to that protection, but boy, that sounds really great. To have your opinion considered on a constant basis, that’s something I really strive for.
THR: Do you have someone on set or off whose opinion of your performance you trust?
Oh: Mark Jackson, our camera operator. Our relationship with the operator is extremely intimate. He’s the first eye that sees what I do and he knows me and he has moved with me for six years. There are moments when I look over at him and he makes certain sounds or I???see his physicality and it absolutely registers. There are times when I look over at him and he’ll give me something and I’ll either go and do another take or I’ll go kick him.
Sevigny: I ask the other girls on my show, Jeanne (Tripplehorn) and Ginny (Goodwin), whenever we have scenes together. They’re really tough critics, but they’re also really open. I really trust them, which is rare, I think, between actresses. It’s always us against the director. (Laughs.)
THR: Chloe, Claire and Elisabeth, you all started working very young. How do you think that impacted you?
Moss: I’ve been working for so long, most of what I’ve learned has been from doing. By working with other actors, working with directors and writers and different writing styles. I’m just happy that I never really got that famous when I was little because I got the chance to get better before anyone knew who I was.
Danes: I also think we were so lucky to have that success 10, 15 years ago, before there was this media craziness. I was entitled to a great amount of privacy. I could get it wrong, and now that just doesn’t exist. I don’t know how kids today do it. It’s really crazy. I did a movie with Zac Efron recently and the kind of paranoia that he experiences is justified because people have cameras all on their phones and everywhere. It’s a different game now.
THR: Glenn, you didn’t become famous until you were in your 30s. Did it help that you were allowed to grow up first?
Close: I don’t think I’ve ever grown up and I don’t think I ever will. One of my favorite books about acting is by Richard Eyre, called “Utopia and Other Places.” He spent years directing at the National Theatre (in England) and has great respect for the process of actors. (Laurence) Olivier said, “If you scratch an actor — you’ll find an actor!” But he disagrees: If you scratch an actor, you’ll find a child. It’s not that they’re childish, but you have to maintain a certain openness, and if you don’t maintain that, you lose something vital as an actor. It’s how we’re wired, and it’s not a bad thing. It’s actually a good thing.
THR: Is there a personality trait that all actresses share?
Close: Actresses are different from actors. Don’t you find that?
Sevigny: I find actresses more low-maintenance than actors. (Laughs.)
THR: Men are conditioned for control, so being child-like might be harder for them.
Sevigny: Oh boo-hoo.
Oh: It’s harder for men to be childish? (Laughs.)
Moss: No, child-like. Very different.
THR: What bothers you most about actors?
Sedgwick: Oh my gosh, that’s a terrible question. I’m married to one!
Danes: So am I!
Moss: We all have to go back and work with our male actors.
Close: I love actors. I call myself an actress. Why call myself an actor? That was back when it was all about being feminist. But I call all of us an alien nation and I love my fellow actors. You go to some terrible play, some off-off-Broadway play and you see somebody being not very good, and I love them even more. It takes a certain type of bravery.
Moss: Yes, I think bravery would be the personality trait that we all aspire to.
Sedgwick: We get to explore what it is to be human. And all that it means. I find that very profound.
THR: There seem to be more interesting female roles on television these days. Do you agree?
Sedgwick: Absolutely. Broadcast, cable, both.
Sevigny: Certainly the films that HBO puts out.
Danes: “Temple” wouldn’t have come out in theaters. Nobody would have funded that.
Close: What used to be going on in theater or independent film is now going on in cable.
Danes: I’m a lady so I like watching versions of the female experience represented on any screen, big or small. Women have been underrepresented for a long time.
Oh: We’re at this section of the conversation. (Laughs.) But absolutely, being the one woman who isn’t white, I actually don’t know (when that will) translate into more mainstream features. When “Grey’s” first happened, people were like, “Oh my God, things are going to change, la la la la.” And I don’t really think so. I feel welcomed in television. (But) I would like to see more people who are not white and women. And I’m personally interested in seeing the existential woman and what she is going through, as opposed to the woman (whose) experience (you see) in relationship to her family or her husband.
Danes: That’s what was so great about playing Temple. She was not defined by a relationship with anyone. Having just come out of my 20s, I was just playing falling-in-love all the time. I love falling in love, but my experience is broader than that.
THR: Sandra, why didn’t the success of “Grey’s” lead to more minorities on network TV?
Oh: You tell me. You write about it! (Laughs.)